Some 500 migrants were released into the streets of El Paso, Texas, to fend for themselves Monday as the border city grappled with an overwhelming influx of asylum seekers who have besieged the city and overwhelmed its shelters and border detention facilities.
Migrants with nowhere to go were seen lying on mattresses and cardboard boxes in the city’s downtown district after having their claims processed and being let into the country by Border Patrol agents, according to KTSM-TV.
The situation, which a local congressman dubbed a “crisis on steroids,” came as some 5,628 asylum seekers were held in temporary US Customs and Border Protection custody in a facility designed for 3,500 after Mexican authorities escorted busloads of people fleeing failing governments in Nicaragua, Peru and Ecuador to the US border this weekend.
Agents have been overwhelemed, with around 2,400 migrants handing themselves in at the border each of the last three days — more than 7,000 in total.
As no shelter space was available, authorities had no choice but to release 498 of them onto the streets, where temperatures fell to around freezing..
And El Paso officials have been warned it is a taste of things to come — as they previously said they have been told to brace themselves for migrant numbers to surge by 40% beginning on Dec. 21, when the pandemic-era Title 42 is set to expire.
The court order has been enforced to eject migrants from Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador from the country. When it expires, those migrants will again be eligible for asylum in the US if they meet the criteria.
One migrant from Nicaragua named Najera said he had been persecuted for his evangelical christian beliefs.
He told Borderreport.com: “We came looking for that in this country so that our family can have a better life and things change … There is no freedom [in Nicaragua]. That president thinks he is God … The economy is shot, and things are difficult. They took away scholarships from young people and now they are threatening to take away benefits for the elderly.”
El Paso city Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, rejected calls from local lawmakers to declare a state of emergency Monday, despite the number of migrants in the city doubling from a few months ago. Sporadically over the year, Border Patrol agents have been so overwhelmed with migrants that they have had to release them onto the streets.
Outside of city politics, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he had secured an agreement with a local rescue mission to provide accommodations for some of the unsheltered immigrants and was working to give unused Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to Catholic leaders to provide a thousand extra beds.
“We already had intel they were coming in this direction … all weekend [we] spent time with Congresswoman [Veronica] Escobar [D-Texas] to look at the FEMA funding and see how we could expedite that,” Samaniego told KTSM-TV.
“It’s not something that we would like to do but I think it’s something that we have to do, as you know, the numbers are climbing, we already have 5,000, over 5,050 in the detention center, and we have people lining up,” he reportedly added.
El Paso County was also looking for a larger location for its Migrant Support Services Center, which can process 500 people a day.
US Rep. Tony Gonzalez (R-Texas), who represents a large swath of the southern border from north of Laredo to just outside El Paso, spoke to the station about the overwhelming influx.
“Here we are a week away from Title 42 ending and the crisis is now on steroids and everything it touches gets consumed right now. There are no Border Patrol agents out in the field, everybody is in processing centers,” said the Republican.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was set to travel to the border city Tuesday to “meet with the CBP workforce, review operations, and meet with local officials and organizations,” according to DHS.
Gonzales had reportedly called for Mayorkas’ resignation amid the deteriorating situation. El Paso is represented in the House by Escobar.
“It’s not fair to the people of El Paso that the federal government has caused this problem, I’ve seen the exact same thing happen in my district in Del Rio and Eagle Pass, to name a few, so this is only the beginning, just when we think it can’t get any worse, it does,” he told the station.
Border officials brought in extra agents and officers from Big Bend and the El Paso Field Office to assist with processing “individuals as safely and expeditiously as possible,” CBP said in a statement.
In addition to the Sunday caravan that brought 2,400 migrants to the border, some 1,200 had arrived to the Mexican state of Chihuahua on foot late last week and were being bused by state police over the weekend, authorities said.
Some of the bused migrants were rescued after they had been kidnapped by an organized crime outfit on Dec. 3 and all forced to sleep in one house, according to a survivor.
“I am traumatized from threats in my country and I am traumatized from the kidnapping here. All I want is to arrive at a place that is safe. That is all we’re asking for,” a 29-year-old Peruvian woman named Carmen who had been among the abducted told El Paso Matters on Sunday.